15 Mar 2013

Cyprus approaches world record for consecutive test rugby wins

1:03 pm on 15 March 2013

The Cyprus rugby team, who played its first match less than six years ago, could make history on Saturday by equalling the world record for consecutive test rugby wins.

The 'Moufflons', affectionately named after the horned sheep that's indigenous to the country's mountainous regions, are on a 17-game winning streak.

On the weekend they face Bulgaria who Cyprus thrashed 94-3 the last time the teams met in 2012.

With just one defeat in 21 games, two successive promotions have lifted the Moufflons from the third tier of rugby playing nations to a victory shy of becoming joint world record holders on 18 consecutive victories, alongside Lithuania.

Head coach Paul Shanks, a Welshman and Royal Air Force officer who travels from his home in the southeast of England a few days before each game, insists the record is not the priority.

Rugby was originally a sport played exclusively by foreign military personnel at the island's two British sovereign bases and United Nations barracks.

It was not until 2003 that Cyprus's first independent rugby club was established when a group of Cypriots, who relocated from South Africa back to Cyprus, together with British expats living in the western coastal town of Paphos, formed the Paphos Tigers.

This was followed by two more teams, one in Nicosia and another in Limassol. As they grew, so did their ambitions with a pool of only around 70 players.

The national squad includes students, trainee accountants, teachers, an architect and a managing director of an online gaming company.

However, in a sign of how unknown the sport is to the soccer-obsessed islanders, it is unlikely that more than 1500 spectators will be there to watch.

In a country where the sports pages are dominated by football and the occasional story trailling the fortunes of the country's top tennis player Marcos Baghdatis, the success an amateur squad has had with the oval ball has gone largely unnoticed.

Judging by the surprised reaction of most locals at merely the mention of the existence of a Cyprus rugby side, it is safe to say that the sport is yet to capture the hearts and minds of the island's 840,000 population.